Notes from Real People — Conversations with a Legit Standup & SNL Assistant


This past weekend is the hallowed Johns Hopkins tradition of Alumni Weekend. Using the magic of email and bribery the Black and Blue Jay was able to get two LEGIT alumni to stop by and chat with the budding comedians on campus. Emphasis on the budding. Also emblematic of how un-comedic campus is — 8 people came.

BUT those who came were welcome to a font of knowledge. It was so cool!


Dan and Luke

Standup/Writer/Actor/All Around Funny Guy: Dan Ahdoot!

SNL Writer’s Assistant: Luke Sand!



That was a point that Dan and Luke harped on religiously. We’re at a point in time where all it takes is an iPhone and some elbow grease to spit out an impressively put together product. If you want to write for the screen, get some friends together and make a short. If you want to be a standup, go to open mics and record your set. If you want to write for late night, slap your own show together. That’s how you get noticed.


Right, how trite are these? But they’re cliche because it’s good advice. Be yourself here means that you should write what you know. Dan got his lit agent after he wrote a pilot based on his college experience. It won contests and generated heat. Why? Because only he could tell that story, and he told it well.


This one may hit as a bit cheap, but another great point is that you can generate buzz by being totally out of the PC zone. There is a story about a FRIENDS script from over a decade ago called ‘The One Where Everyone Gets AIDS.’ It’s a fucking legend. Why are you hearing about it today? Because it was shocking. You don’t have to be a dick or even be inappropriate — you can just be fucking out there and still make a splash.


This one was surprising — “Don’t go to LA until you’re asked to.” This one may be more for standup. Apparently New York is just a crueler, trial-by-fire atmosphere, and struggling against the adversity of the audience is the only way to grow and really hit your peak. In LA comedy is often an event — you’ve gotta pick your tickets, print ’em, get all gussied up, drive out there, etc. New York will knock you down a peg, which will make you try harder. A bit of a bummer for me, as I’m LA-bound in a few weeks, but such is life!

What would you ask your comedy mentors?

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‘Writing a Masterpiece’ — My Experience Rewriting AIRPLANE! (pt. 1)


As per usual, I was perusing Reddit this past week when I had a moment of inspiration. I’ve mentioned before the story (perhaps apocryphal) that Hunter S. Thompson rewrote the entirety of Great Gatsby, word for word, just to see what it felt like to write a masterpiece. When someone on Reddit mentioned doing the same for a screenplay, the idea stuck with me, and I turned it into my weekend project.

It ended up taking much, much longer.

Jammin’ in the AIRPLANE! cockpit


As an aspiring comedy writer (which should be obvious since it’s plastered on top of every page of this blog), I went to my repository of favorite comedy scripts — AIRPLANE! was at the top of the list. I wasn’t able to find a pdf of the script, but I was able to find a copy entirely in HTML, which you can find here.

So now my mission was twofold — I would rewrite the script so that I could get the experience of crafting a masterpiece, as well as so I could have a nice, neat, clean, shareable PDF of the AIRPLANE! script, something I couldn’t find anywhere online.

But holy shit, is this a process.


Thus far I’ve put in about five hours of retyping effort, and have only made it through 30 of the 75 pages of the Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker script. One interesting note is that formatting was a tad different when it was written back in ’79, such as dialogue being given more page space per line. My retype of the script is at page 44, which means the final script will probably clock in at around ~110 pages.


A couple of things have jumped out at me.

  1. You’re really forced to examine the structural minutiae of the script. I know I spend a lot of my time worrying at the macro level, so it’s enlightening to notice exactly how ZAZ structured their interesting visual gags, or how often they cut away to show the exterior of the plane for emphasis.
  2. Everything is less sexy than in the movie. This one may seem minor, but it was big to me. The final product of AIRPLANE! is so hilarious, both linguistically and visually, but a lot of that doesn’t come through in the script. The dialogue is funny, yes, but the iconic delivery is what gave it such staying power. The visual gags in particular are harder to translate. This sort of thing works much better for writer/directors, who don’t need to translate their ideas as fully onto the script, since their vision is the final product anyhoo.

  3. I don’t feel much different…yet. As something to fill the time and feel productive, I’ve found this to be a good exercise, but as of yet I haven’t noticed any drastic change. I expect — like with most things — that doing something like this enough will basically result in creative osmosis that will start manifesting once you’re writing.


I’ll keep updating as I continue to soldier through the script re-type. Hopefully I come across some more nuggets of wisdom to share. Worst case scenario, I’ll have hit a cool milestone, as well as have a PDF copy of AIRPLANE! that I’ll upload on here.

What script would you re-write?

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The Open Mic Diaries — Lessons from My First Experiences in Standup

The Bug

Whenever I start learning about something new, one phrase always pops up from the veterans: ‘catching the bug.’ Over the past couple of weeks I have found myself saying the same thing about standup. It’s fucking exhilarating. For 5 minutes or less, you’ve got control of a room. All eyeballs are on you, and occasionally-paying customers are relying on you to provide their entertainment for the evening. For me, it’s a newer facet of comedy. Here’s what I’ve learned. 

  1. Do It A Lot

This one is probably obvious. I haven’t gotten up as much as I’d like — only 4 times in the past month — but especially in these early stages I’ve noticed real improvements in my work. ‘Noob gains,’ to borrow a phrase from bodybuilders, are when you’re able to make significant leaps in skill because it’s so easy to eliminate your really shitty habits as you slide into your new role as comedian. 

  1. Record Your Set

This one can sometimes be hard to negotiate, but it’s always worthwhile. Whether you’re just recording audio with a phone placed on the stool, or you enlisted a friend or freelancer to record your set from the crowd, knowing what you do on stage is crucial. Like in any discipline, earnest reflection on past performance is a guaranteed way to make improvements. On that note…

  1. Make Notes on the Sets You Record

AKA actually listen to/watch them. It’s super easy to pull up a video, watch, laugh, make some mental notes, and move along. But don’t do that. Instead, get out a pen, or pull up a Word doc, and scribble down some actual notes on your performance. What went well, what went poorly, what to improve. In enough weeks/months/years it’ll be fun to look back and see what trivial things were bothering you early on (or what major things you missed).

  1. Bring Friends

Whether they’re comedians or not, creating a support structure is a great way to keep on traveling down a path you want to travel. Don’t overtax relationships bringing people to dive bars for open mic, but if you can find a core group who’s down to clown around with some comedy, it’s a great way to ensure your continued ability to get up on stage — and have a crowd. Plus, they can provide good feedback if they’re comedically minded. Just be ready to take their comments with a grain of salt if not!

  1. If All Else Fails, Start Your Own Night

I can’t speak for everywhere, but at least in a college town, there’s no shortages of bars. If you’re willing to put in the man hours to create and promote a night of comedy, they’ll be more than happy to accommodate a larger group of customers spending money on their food and drinks. If you’re a student group at a school, you could probably even get a subsidy to help put the damn thing on!

  1. Just Do It

Oh hey, that phrase again (Nike plz don’t sue). No one ever became a successful standup by watching specials on Netflix and thinking they’re funny. At the end of the day, you’ve gotta get up there, minute by minute, to develop your material and your skills. And if you think you suck, don’t worry. You’re in good company. So did every other comedian. Until they started playing in stadiums and starring in movies. 

What are your standup comedy tips?

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Monkey See, Monkey Do — Ape the Greats to Build Your Skills


I recently saw a reddit post that really struck me. The user had talked about some of his issues in structuring screenplays, and he had a surprisingly simple yet surprisingly brilliant idea. He went through the Terminator script, beat by beat, and then used that exact structure as an outline for his own feature!


Those words were said to me by a college writing professor, who proceeded to point out a bunch of similarities, even on the sentence level, of major works of literature in the English canon. When you’re famous enough, you get to call it an ‘homage.’ But for now, there’s nothing wrong with  looking at what works and making it your own. Why is that?


If you want to make money in this comedy writing game — and face it, who wouldn’t want to make a career out of this shit? — then what’s most important is output. My theory in pretty much every creative endeavor is that the cream rises to the top and the shit is forgotten. Exceedingly rare is the artist who can only churn out top-quality material, and even then, she probably has piles of unpublished papers from college or summer camp or a notebook she kept secret at her first job as a desk jockey , all of them crap on crap on crap, getting only slightly better as one nears the more recent end of the pile. 

As I’ve said before, if all first drafts are shit, you’re gonna need a lot of first drafts to make good shit. 


This is only for features, but here’s a great collection of beat sheets for some of the more notable movies of the past couple decades. ( Want to write a timelessly comedic romantic dramedy? ‘Borrow’ the structure for THE APARTMENT, Billy Wilder’s Best Picture/Screenplay winner. 

It may not be the most original final product, but with one less thing to worry about, you can bet that your writing skills will improve as you work around a proven-successful structuring. You may even find yourself throwing away your original outline as the characters and your narrative begin to take form.

But as I always say —

Get out there and write!

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Class is Back at Community


My favorite sitcom is back in force for a digitally distributed (and eleventh-hour resurrected) sixth season. That’s right, Community is back on the airwaves. Or fiberoptic cables, I suppose. Now released weekly on Yahoo! Screen, Community’s newest season has really seemed like a return to the form for TV’s pluckiest comedy. 

Here’s what we’ve got so far:

S6E1 – Ladders

Dean Pelton hires Francesca “Frankie” Dart (Paget Brewster) as a consultant to help improve Greendale, but her tactics create tension on campus.

S6E2 – Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care

Britta discovers that her parents have been helping her financially from behind the scenes, while the Dean becomes obsessed with an expensive virtual reality system and Jeff seeks out the inventor, Elroy Patashnik (Keith David), to get a refund.

S6E3 – Basic Crisis Room Decorum

Community’s 100th episode!

Annie finds out that Greendale once gave a bachelor’s degree to a dog and clashes with Jeff over how to deal with the news. Elsewhere, Britta has an embarrassing series of misadventures, Frankie and Elroy meet each other, Chang heads off-campus to make a dirty movie, and the Dean gets confused over texts from a Japanese kid.


After a long and tumultuous trio of seasons (3, 4, 5) with the Peacock, Community has, for me at least, hit a very successful stride. With any sitcom, chemistry between the actors in key, and the new additions of Paget Brewster and Keith David are really great additions to the already varied personalities of Study Room F. Having lost 4 members of the cast since season 3, with Donald Glover’s absence being the most notable to the group dynamic, having a comparable mesh of personalities is a challenge. But I’m very satisfied with what we’ve got so far. 

There’s an entirely new aesthetic this season, as a new DP sits behind the camera. Longtime viewers will be elated to see a return to exterior sets as well, an important facet of the show’s universe that failed to show up as ratings and budget fell. 

The plots have been typical Community, convoluted, meta, and hilarious. The jokes are just as witty, and the runners (particularly Chang’s arc in ep 2) are killer. Today’s episode was great as well, and you can see that Dan Harmon and co are really taking advantage of the longer format that digital provides, taking their time on certain jokes that go from funny, to funnier, to absurd. 


Though we’ve finally hit the first mark in the hallowed #sixseasonsandamovie, it’s important that if you like Community, you tune in! The fate of TV’s most creative show has been in the balance far too often in the past few years, and as always, it’s up to audience eyeballs and outreach to keep it on top.

You can watch here:

So what are you waiting for!

How do you feel about Community’s 6th season?

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AMATEUR THEORY – Comedy is Synonyms


Alright, so comedy is more than just wordplay. In fact, my other amateur formulation of the hahas is that comedy is insight phrased in unexpected ways. But that’s a postulate for a different post, ya dig? Today I want to delve into something that I’ve seen come up time and time again.

Comedy is synonyms. 


Don’t eviscerate me for saying that name. First of all, I don’t get why Dane Cook gets all kind of hate, or called a hack, or a failure. The man consistently sold out STADIUMS, people. If that’s not success, wuddafuq are YOU trying to do with your career? 

I bring ol’ Dane up because it was back in his heyday that I started to notice this phenomenon. Dane Cook would have bits where I would be spitting laughing. Falling out of my chair. But all he was doing was taking his punchline and rephrasing it. Sometimes just once. Sometimes in a couple ways. But he was taking the exact same idea and literally repeating it, and the laughs just kept getting bigger. 


I think it boils down to novelty. When you hear a punchline, it tends to hit because its unexpected. Now, comedians work INSANELY hard on the wording of their bits. They can spend hours and days retooling their language. So when they hit on that first punchline, those words are very deliberately chosen. 

But the human language is a funny fuckin’ thing. Some words sound funnier than others. I’ve heard of ‘Comedy Ks’ in particular, but letters like P and Q have a similar effect. Wikipedia even has a page of Inherently Funny Words


So you’ve got your punchline, but maybe the insight works best without the funny words. That’d be ‘putting a hat on a hat’ as it were. So you say it once: 

…so I ate the green beans in the boat. 

but you want to emphasize, so you reiterate it:

…I was literally chewing on a bagful of verdant veggies

Then you carry on a bit, but want to circle back:

…which is why I was munching on those fuckin legumes on the pontoon

These punch lines are by no means perfect (or even good), but hopefully you’re starting to get the idea.


It turns out this whole thing was hard to formulate without a particular joke in mind, but it’s something to keep an eye out for. Next time you’re listening to standup or even just getting a laugh, try to see if this synonymous phenomenon is at play. For me, it’s all just a part of an ongoing effort to figure out WTF is going on in the strange world of comedy. 

What’s your amateur comedy theory?

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Momentous Momentum — Keep the System Running


It’s currently the middle of my Spring Break, and besides a killer sunburn on my shoulders I’ve also acquired a bit of self-knowledge: that routine is a super important part of my creative process, and neglecting it 100%, even in the name of fun, is a good way to set myself a looong ways back. 

(it’s not for nothing that I’m writing this the day after St. Patrick’s Day)

So if you’re anything like me, I’ve compiled a couple tips to keep yourself writing, or at the very least working, just to keep things going smoothly. 

  1. Know your Weaknesses

And write them down. As you may have realized at this point in your authorial career, writing things down is a good way to help make them a bit more tangible, understandable. Maybe it’s just the time you spend dedicated solely to expressing the thought. So know your triggers! I often find myself jonesing for a ‘whole day off’ after a long work week, but I always know that I feel like crap by the end of those days. So I wrote that down — I try to shoot for ‘nonzero days’ where at least SOMETHING is accomplished, even if all I want to do is stay in bed and watch TV.

2. Know your Strengths

On the other side of that token, know what motivates you, too! I have a Google Doc that’s filled with things I know will pump me up, or at least will prime my system to get pumped up. (NERD ALERT: here’s one such song) People have different triggers, whether it’s going for a walk, listening to aforementioned awesome tunes, or even just watching a motivational video (LESS NERDY ALERT: my favorite is here).

3. Keep Track of your Progress

Put together a little log of things you’ve worked on for the day. Whether it’s a small section of a calendar, a post-it, or a journal you keep for yourself, keeping track of what you’ve been doing is a great way to keep moving. The habit alone of writing things down makes you feel a bit more guilty when trying to skip a day, and all the more accomplished when you do stuff. Plus having a backlog of your successes never hurts, especially when the motivation is running low.

4. Write Every Day

Possibly the most annoying and trite advice in the world, it nevertheless bears repeating. Even if you’re just blocking a couple of minutes out to, say, write a blog post, it goes a long way. I’ve reached my quota for today — have you?


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Pulling Back the Silver Screen – A Breakdown of the Best Podcast I Just Found Out About

Well folks, sometimes you write a whole blog post about the best podcasts for aspiring comedy writers, then the universe goes along and shows you how wrong you are. Since I last wrote about the five podcasts that’ll make you a funnier, better person, I’ve found out about the coolest resource in TV writing I’ve ever come across. So as penance, here’s a breakdown of the whole damn thing!

Children of Tendu

With 13 episodes and a rootin’ tooting’ Christmas special, the Children of Tendu Podcast is literally designed to give an in-depth look into the absurdly obtuse nega-zone that is TV writing. And you couldn’t have better hosts for the journey.  

But who are they?

This ain’t some college student ranting about what he’s read in a book — Children of Tendu is hosted by two writer/producers with a combined forty years of experience in television.  Javier Grillo-Marxuach has worked on shows such as CHARMED, LOST, MEDIUM, and MIDDLEMAN (of which he was creator). Fellow host Jose Molina has an even longer resume, having written for LAW AND ORDER: SVU, DARK ANGEL, WITHOUT A TRACE, AGENT CARTER, SLEEPY HOLLOW, FIREFLY, and more. 

With such extensive resumes, it’s safe to say that these guys know their shit. Here’s what they talk about:

The Episodes

Now with links!

Episode 1: Your First Step in a Much Larger World

In the opening podcast, Jose and Javier lay the groundwork for the rest of the episodes, as well as talk to writers with absolutely zero experience about what they should be doing. 

Episode 2: Agents – Who? Why? and How?

The duo talk about the importance of agents, as well as how to get them!

Episode 3: Staffing Season

Javier and Jose demystify the crazy time of the year in which episodes are picked up and writers are hired. 

Episode 4: The Writer’s Room — How Do I Work This?

So you’ve been hired as a staff writer! Congratulations! Now welcome to the bottom of the totem pole. Here’s how you make your way up.

Episode 5: Your First Script on Staff: Surrender Your Ego

A coming-of-age tale that explores what it’s like when you’re given your first big task as a staff writer — write a damn script!

Episode 6: Showrunners Special

Featuring the creators/showrunners of CW’s ‘Reaper’ and current show runners of ‘Agent Carter.’ They talk show running, challenges of being a woman in Hollywood, and more!

Episode 7: What Do All Those Producer Credits Mean?

Breaking down the oddly-titled track that writer’s follow from staff-writer to EP, particularly talking about the division of labor and time at each step.

Episode 8: Mo Producers Mo Problems

A solid fellow up to episode 7, this podcast goes more in depth about the type of work that a writer picks up as they become more producorial (I swear that’s a word).

Episode 9: Your Showrunner and You

An explanation of the auteur that is the showrunner, covering everything from what they do to how to avoid the mistakes that rookies make when dealing with them.

Episode 10: Nerdist Writer’s Panel Crossover!

Jose, Javi, and Ben Blacker chat with two veteran writers from Star Trek: The Next Generation, covering everything from their glory days in the writer’s room to mentorship in Hollywood. 

Part two HERE

Episode 11: There’s a Lot of Good Stuff Here…But We Do Have Some Notes

Tackling the writer’s bane that is the network note, and going into detail about the relationship between writers and their studios/networks.

Episode 12: So You Wanna Write a Television Pilot

The gang explores what it’s like to write a pilot, and the zany journey from the written page to the produced piece. 

Episode 13: Our Spine Tingling Season Finale!

A real-time Q and A with fans of the podcast, be they aspiring writers, producers, executives, or more!

Episode 14: Christmas Special

Wherein Jose and Javi return one more time to delve deep into their psyches to talk about their writing processes .

But I Want More!

That’s all for now, but I’ve heard whispers that they’ll be starting a ‘Season 2’ of the podcast sometime in the near future. Only time will tell. 

So what are you still doing here? Get listening!

What do you want out of another season of Tendu?

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5 Comedy Writing Podcasts That’ll Make You A Funnier, Better Person

The Best Way to Expose Yourself

Unlike the way the homeless guy you keep running into at subway stations does it, there is in fact a good way to expose yourself in this life. Comedy podcasts – and they are legion – are a great way to fill what would otherwise be dead air in your day with humor and insight. Like with most things, if you inundate your puny little brain with enough input, some of it starts to stick, whether you like it or not.

I’ve gathered together a list of the cream of the crop, the best of the comedy ilk, in order to saturate your gray matter with a heaping helping of ha has. Download an app like Podcast Addict (Play Store) and download gigs up to your gills — some of these ‘casts have a backlog of episodes stretching into the hundreds. All the images below are links too, so don’t be afraid to dive right in!


Drumroll please…

5. Scriptnotes


Click the pic to go to the official site!

Chaired by two established members of the Hollywood screenwriting, Scriptnotes is a great guide into the mind of two writers of various types of feature length screenplays. Your guides for the journey are John August (BIG FISH, CHARLIE’S ANGELS, CORPSE BRIDE) and Craig Mazin (HANGOVER 2 & 3, SCARY MOVIE 3, 4), and they guide well, doing everything from breakdowns of iconic scripts to hosting challenges for their listeners to write the strongest first 3 pages of a script possible. Not necessarily tailored towards comedy (Mazin’s more of the guru in that regard), it’s still an immensely useful resource from any budding writer, comedian or no, who wants to put their material on the screen.

4. Ari Shaffir’s Skeptic Tank

Clicky clicky click for Ari’s site

Hosted by the no-holds-barred Ari Shaffir, the Skeptic Tank is a helluva podcast, that ranges from specifically comedic topics to the absolutely bizarre. However the comedic moments really shine, particularly, when he breaks down existing comedian stand-up specials. Here’s one he did with Joe Rogan, a breakdown of his special Shiny Happy Jihad

This episode is literally 5 HOURS LONG, and is an amazing collection of insights into the mind of a professional stand-up. Ari and Joe go through the special bit by bit, analyzing everything from the origin of the jokes through their refinement and eventual delivery. The banter in between isn’t half bad, either. And this breakdown is just one of 5 in an ongoing series that Shaffir is working on with fellow stand-ups.

Bonus: if you like stand up and Ari’s style, here’s a talk he did specifically for amateur comedians

3. Harmontown

Harmontown is now in session, bitches

Featuring ‘Mayor’ Dan Harmon and ‘Comptroller’ Jeff Davis, Harmontown is a hilarious mish-mash of onstage riffing, improvised rapping, and thoroughly calculated D&D adventures. Between Harmon’s years in joke and storytelling for TV, Davis’ improv talent, and the slew of amazing guest stars they get on, Harmontown is a podcast that always has me grinning and giggling.

There’s nothing quite like listening to a drunken Dan Harmon get even drunker as he plays his perennial D&D (and now Shadowrun) character Jim Nightblade alongside his wife and friends. For the Harmonites and Community-addicted out there, it’s only $5 a month for a membership that nets you the video and live casts as well as access to Dan’s personal blog.

Double Bonus: Dan Harmon’s now-defunct Tumblr is a great and insightful read for the insatiable fan and student of comedy (and life)

2. Nerdist Writer’s Panel

Also featuring the catchiest intro-jungle in podcastdom.

“It’s the Nerdist Writer’s Panel and it’s hosted by Ben Blacker where he takes a bunch of writers and he asks them lots of questions…” So goes the quick musical intro to each episode of the NWP, a show you’re familiar with if you read my recent breakdown of their ‘TV execs’ episode. I really can’t rave enough about this one. The episodes range from between one and two hours, usually staying on the shorter end of that spectrum, but they’re packed to the eyeballs with insider info and really enlightening stories.

As this one is geared towards writers (duh), it’s hard to beat. The Nerdist as a company has a lot of access, and after so many episodes of the Writer’s Panel offshoot, Ben Blacker’s got some real street cred of his own. A recent episode was a reunion of some of the Friend’s writers. Hearing the behind-the-scenes action that created one of the most successful sitcoms of all time is exactly why this podcast is one that should be in your pocket, like, yesterday.

1. The Joe Rogan Experience

“Train by day, Joe Rogan podcast by night — all day!”

Number 1 on this list is the podcast that got me into podcasts, and one of the first in the industry to really rise to fame. Started 5+ years ago and featuring an impressive oeuvre of over 600 episodes, The Joe Rogan Podcast is, by my estimation, the best podcast in existence. As a longtime entertainer and commentator, Joe is constantly hilarious even while taking part in thoughtful conversations.

With a standard podcast length of 3 hours long, and guests ranging from Neil Degrasse Tyson to MMA fighters to Bill Burr, JRE hits an amazing cross section of the human condition, and exposure to that is important to a comedian. Even if you’re only in it for the jokier casts, Joe has had dozens of comedians on, and his favorites (AKA his close friends) have been on plenty of times themselves. Joey Diaz, who Joe Rogan describes as the funniest person on the planet, is a personal fave.

As the title of this post says, this one will also make you a better person. Rogan is amazingly insightful, humble, and egoless, with a tireless work ethic. Most people could benefit picking up a couple of traits from Joe. Given his time in stand-up, TV, and commentary, he’s an ideal role model for comedians and people alike.

So check this shit out!

Did I miss one of your favorites? What comedy podcasts are you listening to?

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Nerdist Writer’s Panel Podcast Breakdown — a Summary of the One Episode Every Writer Should Listen To

The Gates of Development Heaven

In a rare glimpse into the minds of the decision makers at the networks and studios, Ben Blacker of the awesome Nerdist Writer’s Panel podcast got to sit down with three development executives for an amazing 2-hour brain pickin’ podcast. You can download the podcast directly from here, but should you be pressed for time, I’ve broken down the 100 minute discussion into more bite sized pieces here.

Plenty of budding writers end up either working closely with development executives, or being one of them themselves. Especially for those of you who crave a more steady employment than the job-to-job uncertainty of professional writerhood, development could be the route for you. I’ve broken down the key points for writers that the podcast hit upon, but I’ve also included a bonus section at the end for the would-be executives out there. (Don’t forget the little guy once you’re buying scripts!)

The Actual Cast

The trio of heavy hittersthat Mr. Blacker got onto his podcast are:

CBS’ Brian Seabury Drama

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 6.18.38 PM

Sony’s Chris Parnell (less evil than pictured)



Caitlin Foito (much harder to track down)

For Writers

As people who live inside the meeting room, these execs know what they want, what they like, and have plenty of experience with hearing a writer pitch. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Pitch like you’re dying to tell the story

Passion is infectious and highly visible. These executives WANT to see you get too damn excited about your project, like you can barely spit the words out for all your glee. You still want to practice your presentation of course, but if you’re bursting at the seams with excitement, odds are they’ll be too. If you act like you’ll write 100 episodes with or without them, they’ll want to hop aboard.

  • Execs get most excited for material that’s brought to them outside of any sort of mandate

This sort of follows from the passion thing noted above, but these executives are inundated with agents passing along material that’s toe-ing the line. “We need the next Homeland” is a phrase that’s been spit a lot over the past year, but by the time you get anything like that in front of them, it’ll be stale. If an agent passes along a script simply because of how awesome it is, however, that’ll pique their interest every damn time.

  • It’s harder to sell now than ever…

To quote one of the execs, “writers are gold right now,” but that’s a curse and a blessing, because there are so many good writers out there trying to make a living doing great TV shows. Only about 3% of pitches make it all the way to the pilot shooting stage.

  • BUT there’s a niche for EVERYTHING

No longer can you bring something to an agent and have them say “there’s no place for this.” With the advent of so many content distribution channels, there’s a niche for everything, which is exactly why the quality of your writing matters now more than ever.

  • It all comes back to CHARACTER

This is advice you’ll hear a thousand times, but it bears repeating. The best drama, comedy, and intrigue come from compelling characters crossing paths. Even if you’re writing an everyman sort of character, they need a weakness, a compulsion, something to separate them from the pack. Especially in a sitcom. Speaking of…

  • Sitcoms are very cast-dependent

Imagine Pawnee without Nick Offerman’s transcendent Ron Swanson

The good news: Networks shoot more pilots for sitcoms than for dramas. The bad news: they do that because it’s so hard to make a good sitcom stick. So much of that comes down to the cast. Sitcoms like Parks and Rec survive so long because, besides being funny, they’re filled with heart, and their characters have chemistry across the board. But even as a writer, this isn’t out of your hands! The better the material you put onto the page, the more a strong actor can work with. On your (/our) end, it all comes down to the script, baby.

  • The Big Secret: Development executives are on your side!

One point that all three of the execs on the panel hit was that, when you’re starting a pitch, the development person you’re pitching to wants to be moved. They would love nothing more than for your pitch to be the greatest thing they’ve ever heard. And given that they hear hundreds of pitches, they know a by-the-numbers pitch when they hear one. This brings me all the way back to the first bullet — be passionate about your script. It’s infectious (and you want to infect the shit out of those with the power to buy your script)!

B-B-B-BONUS SECTION: For Aspiring Development Executives

This is what it’s like in development offices

So maybe you never wanted to be a comedy writer and just stumbled upon this blog by chance. If so, welcome! Tell your friends.

Anyhoo, here are some of the tips from the NWP podcast that could serve you well in your journey into the Hollywood elite:

  • Take work off your boss’ desk

Whether your last name is Smith or Spielberg, if you want to be an executive, expect to spend some time working at the desk of an existing player. It’ll give you the chance to learn the ins and outs of the industry and their job in particular as you set meetings, talk their contacts, and monitor (snoop on) their phone calls.

How do you make the most out of this experience? Make yourself invaluable. Anticipate your boss’ needs and figure out how to make your life easier. They may never want you to leave! But be sure you do (once they can hook you up with a kush gig at Disney).

  • Cultivate patience and understanding

How very zen of you. Especially when scripts are being sold, from July to October, you’ll be listening to all kinds of pitches. The execs in this panel pinned the number at somewhere near 350, meaning you’ll be doing a solid 3+ every single day. So turn on your ears, build your patience, and try to keep your active ears to the ground about what people are buying and selling these days.

  • Learn to give a good note

So you’ve bought a pitch and are moving forward on a project. The writer turns in a pitch and — uh oh — it’s shit. Or somewhere less than perfect, which is likely where it’ll be. Remember that us writers are fragile creatures, and it’s easy to break our wills. There’s a tragic moment in Harmontown when Dan Harmon gets notes from an exec. If you’ve ever tried to write something in your life, you’ll realize how crushing it would be to get some of the feedback he received.

So, as you should be striving for in life, make your notes as concrete as possible. Writers spend a lot of time getting to the ‘note behind the note’ AKA ‘WTF does weird mean here?’ A question well-stated is half answered. And remember to be gentle, for the love of God. If it takes about 3 extra seconds to phrase a question in a less condescending way, consider it the best investment you’ll ever make.

Hope this breakdown was enlightening! If you have another other podcasts or presentations you’d be interesting in reading a breakdown of, put the below!

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